Hard Questions About the Bible

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Ancient Chinese Kings Believed in the ‘Mandate of Heaven’

My source is the book, ‘Ancient Civilizations’ published in 2006 by McGraw Hill and National Geographic.

One of China’s earliest dynasties, the Shang, ruled from 1750 B.C.  The people worshiped gods, spirits of the earth, and their ancestors.  Shang kings believed they received power and wisdom from the gods and spirits.

The kings would ask for the gods’ help by having priests scratch questions on animal bones, then place hot metal rods inside the bones, causing them to crack.  They believed that the pattern of the cracks formed answers from the gods.  The scratches and cracks were the basis of the first form of Chinese writing.

The next dynasty, the Zhou, ruled from 1045 B.C.  The Zhou rulers claimed to have a ‘Mandate of Heaven’, giving them the right to rule.  This went both ways, though, a good king in prosperous times could claim the Mandate of Heaven, but if things went bad, such as a natural disaster or bad harvest, the people had the right to overthrow the king.

Kings Sometimes Claim Authority from the Gods

The 1966 Disney movie ‘Lt. Robin Crusoe USN’, starring Dick Van Dyke and Nancy Kwan, illustrates how kings sometimes claim authority from the gods.

I found a youtube video clip ‘Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. (1996)’ posted by Disney Fan.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8JG7kOaghg

In the movie, King Tanamashu prayed before a huge stone idol on a deserted island and claimed to hear its voice, and therefore was justified in passing judgment over his daughter Wednesday (Nancy Kwan).  Robin Crusoe (Dick Van Dyke) was determined to expose Tanamashu’s deception and save Wednesday by pretending that the idol spoke audibly to her.   He set up a microphone and speakers, a powerful water hose, a flame thrower and fireworks inside the idol to make it appear to come alive.  It’s pretty funny, but it illustrates how rulers claim authority from the gods.

If a ruler claims authority from God, and you want to know the truth of the Bible, I believe it’s best to go to the Bible itself.  If you need help, then try talking to a pastor or someone who knows the Bible well, or look up commentaries in books or on the internet.

The message of Christianity is not one of manipulation, riches and power, but rather of sacrifice and love for God and others.  Not every Christian always follows this, but that doesn’t negate the truth of the Bible.

Bible Heroes Were Not Always ‘Holy’

People usually think of the Bible heroes as holy people.  But almost all the people in the Bible, including the so-called heroes, were anything but ‘holy’, as most people think of the word.

Many, like King David, committed great sins.  God chose Jacob, a cheating liar, to be the foundation of his chosen people.  Others, like Moses and Abraham, were weak in their faith.  Almost all the kings of Israel and Judah sinned greatly in the eyes of God, so much that God had his people conquered by foreign nations and carried away in exile.  God chose Jonah, but he ran away, so God caused a big fish to swallow him.  The apostle Peter was so afraid when Jesus was arrested, that he lied about knowing him three times.

Actually, most people think of holy as meaning  ‘good, pure, perfect, moral, straight-laced, having no vices, revered, saintly’ with a halo over their head, etc.  But the word holy, as used in the Bible, actually means ‘set apart’.  So in this sense, the Bible heroes were chosen and set apart for God’s use, even though they were far from perfect and often resisted him.

The people in the Bible were actually ordinary people whom God chose, often without their initial willingness and cooperation, to do his work.  Christians today are also imperfect ordinary people, but they can still do God’s work.

Jonah Swallowed by a Big Fish

In the Biblical story of Jonah, he is swallowed by a big fish.  This story seems fantastic and unbelievable, but actually the story has a meaning that is bigger than just a big fish.

God told Jonah to go preach to the wicked people of Ninevah, which was a non-Israelite city.  This was unusual, because Jonah was an Israelite, and the Israelites as God’s chosen people were not allowed to be corrupted by outside influences.

Jonah balked at God’s command for this reason, and tried to run away to Tarshish.  But while on a ship, Jonah ended up in the ocean and was swallowed by the big fish.  The Greek word used actually means ‘sea creature’, which could be any big sea animal.

Jonah spent three days and three nights in the fish, and prayed to God for help.  God commanded the fish to spit Jonah out on to dry land.  Then Jonah went on to Ninevah to preach of God’s impending judgment.  They repented, and God did not destroy the city.

This is important to Christians because Jesus pointed to Jonah as a sign of his own ministry.  In Matthew 12: 38-41, Jesus compared Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of the fish to his own death and resurrection, which happened three days after his death.

In the Old Testament, God’s salvation was meant only for the Israelites, but he commanded Jonah to preach to the non-Israelites, and Christians see this as a precursor to salvation being offered to the Gentiles (non-Jews/Israelites) through Jesus.

So Jesus regarded the story of Jonah highly enough that he used Jonah as an example.  It might be hard to believe that a big fish swallowed Jonah, but actually the story has a deeper meaning.

Next:  Bible Heroes Were Not Always Holy

What About Miracles?

Skeptical people point to the miracles in the Bible as reason for thinking that the Bible is not true.  Miracles like the parting of the Red Sea seem too fantastic to be true.

I researched some web sites about the parting of the Red Sea, and some suggested that a strong wind might have blown the waters apart, and the Israelites walked across a hidden reef.  Such scientific or natural explanations have the effect of taking God out of the equation.  But actually, I’m willing to accept that God had the ability to part the waters.  After all, if God created the whole world, then parting the Red Sea would be a relatively simple task.

I too was skeptical about miracles, but as I learned more about the Bible, there were a few things that I noticed.

Miracles didn’t happen all the time.  Sometimes, there were hundreds of years between miracles recorded in the Bible.

There are very few spectacular miracles, like the parting of the Red Sea, and a lot of small miracles, like Jesus healing a crippled man.

All miracles had a purpose.  In the New Testament, John the apostle used the term ‘signs’ to mean miracles, and all these signs were meant to point to Jesus.

During the time of Moses and Joshua, God performed miracles to show his power and authority to the young nation of Israel and surrounding nations.  The ironic thing is that even though the Israelites witnessed the miracles firsthand, they still didn’t take God seriously, and they complained, grumbled, were unappreciative, and drifted away from God.

Tangible proof itself doesn’t always convince people to believe.  Even today, people are sometimes skeptical about even tangible evidence, they may be quick to think there’s a conspiracy, or a cover up, etc.  So when I read about Biblical miracles, I try to put them in perspective with the overall message and not get hung up on trying to prove them.  The miracles actually are not the main point, they are just details to support a broader message.

Next:  Jonah Swallowed by a Big Fish

The Ultimate Bad Thing to Happen to Anyone

Probably the ultimate example of suffering in the Bible is Jesus being crucified.  Crucifixion was the worst method of execution that the Romans could devise.  The word excruciating is derived from crucifixion, and means ‘extremely painful, causing intense suffering, torturing’.  The movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ is probably a good example of a portrayal of the horror of crucifixion.

God set Jesus up as the ultimate example of sacrifice and service to others.  Jesus always taught about serving others, and that following him would not be easy.  In Luke 9:23 Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”.  Remember that the cross represented crucifixion – not exactly positive advertising to attract new followers, yet this demonstrates the idea that sacrifice is required to achieve a greater good.

But even if you suffer for following Jesus, God will be there to help you.  In John 16:33, Jesus says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:10:  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 1:5: For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

Jesus suffered a terrible death on the cross, but according to the Bible, he rose from death to show that those who believe in him will also live, and be saved from the penalty of sin.  So according to the Bible, even though people may suffer all kinds of problems in life, we can have hope if we look to Jesus.

Next: What About Miracles?

Bad Things Happened to John the Baptist

From Matthew 14:1-12

John the Baptist was God’s messenger who prepared the way for Jesus.  He was totally in tune with God, he was doing God’s purpose, yet he didn’t live a comfortable life, and was ultimately jailed and executed.

John was jailed and beheaded by order of Herod the Tetrarch because John had called out Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod, and because it pleased him, he promised to grant her request.  Herodias prompted her daughter to ask for John’s head on a platter.

John doesn’t even get executed because of his association of Jesus, he gets executed because he called out someone’s sin. In other words, he didn’t die because of a noble purpose, he died because of hatred and someone’s desire to cover up their sin, which makes his death even more tragic.

On top of that, Jesus didn’t lift a finger to save John, who was even his relative.  He just received news of John’s execution from his disciples.

Why did God allow all of this to happen?  Actually what happened to John the Baptist was nothing compared to what happened to Jesus, and actually may have been a hint as to what will happen to Jesus.

Next:  The Ultimate Bad Thing to Happen to Anyone